Travel

Top 10 Things To Do in DC

The capital of the United States of America has everything a traveler can ask for. Not only does it have great monuments and free museums, but there are so many activities one can do here. Whether you are coming from outside DC, or if you need to go from U Street to Dupont, your best mode of transportation is...the Metro! If you are not in the hurry please avoid the rush hour, and don't forget to walk up/down the escalators on your left, and stand on your right. There is nothing more the locals hate than tourists who block the escalators by standing on the left side. 

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Washington DC is a great city, I see it like New York but less chaotic in a sense. You can come here in the winter, spring, summer or even fall, and it will still be just as good. 

1. The White House- Obviously, this should be the first thing you do when you come to DC. The White House is truly magical, and it's exciting knowing that the president might be inside watching some TV. Although, you can't really get a closeup from the outside as each year the barrier seems to expand. Still if you submit the tour request  through your member of Congress,  you can visit the inside the White House itself!

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2. The Capitol-  It is a bit of a walk from the White House, but the Capitol is yet another iconic part of Washington DC. General negative attitude to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle makes the Capitol mainly good for memorable photo shoots.

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3. National Gallery of Art- all museums are free, which is awesome because when we were in New York we were quite confused why the MOMA cost money.  This is our favorite art museum because of the wonderful selection of Impressionists paintings. The exterior of the National Gallery is pretty cool too if you like to take pictures like me:)

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4. Washington Monument- This probably should've been listed as 3, but honestly, once you walk onto the National Mall, you have both the Capitol and the Monument in sight, and all the museums are right there. Also perfect for pictures. One of the best views/pictures opportunities is from the magnificent World War II Memorial. 

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5. Paddle boating in the Tidal Basin- this is a must when in DC. If you don't want to walk all the way to Jefferson Memorial, you can just see it from the boat. There are plenty of boats, an one hour rental is perfect. My friend and I were stuck paddling while my mom set in the back and kept instructing us and telling us we were going the wrong way. But hey, it was a great leg workout! 

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6. Go to a coffee shop- There are so many coffee shops here, and when it's winter in DC, all we do is enter one and get a latte and then walk a few more blocks to the next one. We usually go to Paul's because they have the best coffee and great pastries. 

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7. National Portrait Gallery of Art - This gallery is our go-to place when we don't know what we want to do. There is always some new exhibit,  has so many interesting portraits and sculptures, so we consider this a must visit place. Plus it is far from all other museums on the mall, but it is still free, and is near all the restaurants and coffee shops. And it closes very late, at 7pm, so you finish your cultural adventure here before going to dinner. 

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8. Walk around Georgetown- Georgetown is part of D.C. that is not too metro friendly, so it is not as easy to get here. But when the weather is nice it is a nice walk from Foggy Bottom metro station, or you can drive or take a taxi or uber. It's filled with so many cute cafes, restaurants and boutiques, and there isn't a lot of walking involved. For me Georgetown is window-shopping, taking pictures and ice cream. 

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9. Library of Congress- for the library of Congress you have to buy tickets, but it is totally worth it. We took a free tour and learned so much. We were absolutely stunned by the detail and carvings that are there, and of course loved the Gutenberg Bible.

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10. Botanical Garden- last but not least, the Botanical Garden. This garden is right next to the capitol, so when you are there you can just stop by for a quick peak. I'm a plant lover, so I was immediately in love with the Botanical Gardens, and try to visit them on my travels too. It is a great break from all the building/museum sight-seeing.  

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Dubai - November 2017 Trip Schedule

Logistics:  Accommodation through AirBnB near Mall of Emirates, can highly recommend Antoun as the host.  Visa: Issued at airport - no fee, passport min 6 months valid. Transportation through SIXT Car rental. Driving is not complicated in Dubai if you set aside enough time to get lost. Still better than taking taxi/metro everywhere, plus is great for a day trip to Abu Dhabi. There is plenty of parking, usually free.         

Day 1

Drive to Dubai Mall. Leave enough time to get lost. Parking is free of charge at Section M of Level 1 inside of the Cinema car parking garage at the lower ground level of the Dubai Mall and you can leave your car there all day. 

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Burj Al Khalifa (price: $37 per ticket). Best deal we found was through the
official site.   We reserved the 9:30am slot, and would highly recommend not getting there later than this.  All the research we did, including speaking to those who live there said that there was no need to pay significantly higher price  ($100 more per person) to go to the 148th floor. Going up to the 125th floor is really enough and the view is awesome. The trick is to come as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

Spice Souk and Gold Souk and the Boat Ride - We took a taxi from Dubai Mall to the Textile Souk (app. $25 per car). Then we took the little boat (abra) from Dubai Old Souk Marine Transport Station across the Dubai Creek (1 durham, best deal ever). The souk is something everyone should experience, even though you don't have anything on your shopping list.

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On your way back across the creek you will see a wonderful restaurant on water- Bait Al Wakeel – we had lunch there and enjoyed excellent food and looking at all the abras that go back and forth. 

Afternoon was reserved for a short visit to the Dubai Museum Fahidi Fort (Hours 9:00-16:30; Tickets 3 Dirham). This small museum gives you a glimpse of Dubai's history and how people used to live in these harsh desert conditions- one hour here is enough. 

To go back to the Dubai Mall to get our car and watch the sunset and the water show, we rode the  Dubai Metro. Nearest metro station to Dubai Museum is the Al Fahidi Metro Station an when there you an ask for directions.  We ended our first day with the beautiful sunset in front of Burj Khalifa at the Square Al Bahar and the Water Fountain Show which starts at 6pm. It is not Bellagio in Las Vegas, but it is still nice. 

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DAY 2
Get up early for the Burj Al Arab Photo Shoot at the Umm Suqeim Public Beach. It was still warm enough to swim at the end of November so we didn't spend our morning just striking poses. 

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After some beach time, we went to see Madinat Jumeirah. This is a hotel resort open to public which is built in style of old Arabian towns. There is a souk (bazar), restaurants, and wonderful view of the Burj Al Arab. Great place to grab lunch with friends. There is also parking for 10 dirham at the garage.  As you enter the garage, there is a ramp on your left that takes you to the lower level, so don't worry if you don't find the spot right away on the upper level. 

In the late afternoon we did the inevitable  Desert Safari with the Desert Safari Luxury Tour - The tour was app. $22 per person through Groupon and communication about where to meet is best done through WhatsApp. The tour includes  Dune Bashing; Camel Ride if time permits (pay extra); time for Sunset Photo Shoot in Desert ; and Dinner & Show. You can also pay extra to smoke Houka (akaNargila or Sheesha)- for app. $14 they will bring it to your table. By the time we made it back to our apartment it was already almost 10pm. 

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DAY 3 (Abu Dhabi Day)

One of the perks of renting a car is being able to drive where you want, when you want and visit to Abu Dhabi becomes easy to organize. We started our day with a visit to the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (guided tours at 10a,11a, 2p, 5p,7p). Address is Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, 5th St, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirate. Plenty Free Parking. They will give you something to cover yourself. It is closed on Friday mornings for tourists so plan accordingly. 

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We tried to get to the Emirates Palace (West End Corniche, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates +971 2 690 9000), the fancy hotel with ATM where you can buy Gold, but someone in our group (not to be named, but the only guy), was wearing shorts, and they will not let you in the hotel compound if dressed inappropriately, which cargo shorts apparently is. 

So, instead, we went straight to the Louvre Abu Dhabi Buy the tickets (app. $20 per person) online to avoid the long queues. This is an amazing museum not to be missed. It gives a great overview of the history of various civilizations, and nicely compares East and West historic and artistic development through history.

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DAY 4
Leave early for the Miracle Garden which opens at 9am. The address is Al Barsha South 3, Barsha,Dubailand Area, +971 4 422 8902. Tickets are 40 dirhams ($11), no need to buy onlilne if you come early. Free Parking. The best photo shoot location in the city, so dress romantically. 

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Afterwards we went to Dubai Marina. Parking was a little tricky, at the end we found affordable parking at JBR Murjan GreenParking for app. $3 per hour.  We rode the Ferry Ride to the Atlantis and back. This was least impressive part of our trip. What was nice was grabbing drinks at sunset at the Pier 7 . There is a restaurant/bar on each floor, but for afternoon drinks the only place open that early was the Cargo Restaurant. Wonderfully relaxing. 

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The last thing we did in Dubai before heading to the airport around 11pm was visit the Mall of Emirates (parking is free) so that we can see the famous skiing in middle of the desert. We got dessert at the TGIF Restaurant (I know, I know, but the view is great), and watched through the window people skiing and snowboarding on the Ski Dubai slopes. Surreal. 

All in all, we loved the United Arab Emirates, and would love to go back for some more desert fun and some night life. This time around as we were waking up very early to avoid the crowds, we didn't really experience the famous Dubai party scene. Next time. 

15 Tips for Iceland Travel

  1. Decide what you want to get out of the trip- Northern Lights are fascinating but that usually means visiting Iceland in the winter.  Going in winter on the other hand may limit some glacier adventures- glacier hike is more challenging and glacier lagoon is closed.
  2. Compare prices, miles earned, and extra charges between low budget WOW airlines  and Icelandair for the dates of your travel.  Icelandair may be more expensive at times, but if you are collecting Alaska airlines miles, you will get some miles. Furthermore, WOW baggage fees can be very high. 
  3. If you plan to drive, reserve a car ahead of time. We used PROCAR Car Rental and their representative picked us up from the airport and took us to the lot. We opted for all possible insurance they offered, based on numerous trip advisors reviews (super CDW, sand storm insurance, etc.).  Total cost of one week car rental in August, with all the insurance, was app. $1,300. If you decide to rent a camper and save on the hotel cost, a week rental with insurance costs app. $1,800. It is a cheaper option, but less comfortable. 
  4. For U.S. drivers no international driver's license is necessary, you can rent the car with your regular license only. 
  5. Reserve hotel ahead of time, at least for the first few days. If you plan to go to Blue Lagoon first, find an apartment that has a washer/dryer so that you can dry your swimsuits. 
  6. Weather/season permitting book the Glacier Walk and Glacier Lagoon tours ahead of time. They go fast. The glacier lagoon tour is only open May to October. 
  7. Pack waterproof/warm clothes, hiking shoes/boots, warm hiking socks, etc. Most of these items you can buy in REI (being dry is worth every penny). They carry plus size as well.
  8. Chances are it will rain a lot. Forget about the umbrella and focus on waterproof jacket. You will also need a rain cover for your backpack
  9. Pack swimsuits and hair conditioner (many hotels have shampoos but not conditioner). If you are going to volcanoes in Myvatn region, bring a fly net- you will need it. The annoying flies aim for your nose and eyes as you climb up.
  10. Dress in layers. Dress in layers. Dress in layers. Did I mention to dress in layers?
  11. Iceland is very expensive and most of Reykjavik hotels do not offer free breakfast. If possible pack food (ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, energy bars, peanut butter, etc.). 
  12. If you are on the road, buy food in supermarkets and make sandwiches for the next day.
  13. No need to bring lots of cash, they accept credit cards almost everywhere. Even in the bathroom stalls.
  14. The water in Reykjavik slightly smells of sulfur but it's not horrible. It's nothing compared to Myvatn in the north. 
  15. Pay attention when driving, the signs on the road are very small and inconspicuous. The bridges are often one-lane bridges, so adjust and watch the road ahead before deciding to cross the bridge. Most bridges are short enough so that you clearly see if there is incoming traffic competing for the same lane.